A vibrant, solidly entertaining story that will seize readers from the first page and not let go.

TROUBLE THE WATER

In Friedland’s debut historical novel, a British family sends their daughter to South Carolina, where she becomes embroiled in the mid-19th-century politics of the Deep South.

Abby Milton arrives in Charleston in 1845, already haggard due to the South Carolina heat. Hailing from Wigan, England, she’s been sent away to ease the financial burden on her middle-class family. An old family friend, the highly esteemed and enigmatic estate owner Douglas Elling, receives her. The novel opens three years before this, with a tragic fire at Douglas’ home that kills his wife and daughter; he watches helplessly as his staff prevents him from rushing into the flames. By the time Abby arrives, Douglas is embittered and reclusive. Her early impression is that he’s also a bigot; he yells at her for making physical contact with a black stable hand. Then readers learn that he was once involved in liberating captives from slave ships and continues to shelter black refugees. As Abby and Douglas’ relationship develops, she learns more about his position in the town. She reluctantly attends the Cunningham ball, where she meets the striking, if manipulative, Cora Rae Cunningham, who has designs on Douglas. As politics and desire heat up, Abby and Douglas tread a precarious path, but will it bring them together or tear them apart? This is a promising debut from Friedland, who writes with an enviable emotional intuitiveness. Her prose bores to the center of her characters’ psychologies to reveal their drives and desires: “He knew the minute he laid hands on her, he couldn’t say why, that his new mission was to rescue her, not only from the immediate incident, but from whatever it was that had pushed her from her British home, ragged and defeated, to him....Maybe at last he could save just one person who was actually relevant to the story of his own life.” This results in engaging characters that readers will care about. Overall, this is a well-researched novel that vividly and believably reanimates the aristocratic world of South Carolina’s historical planter class.

A vibrant, solidly entertaining story that will seize readers from the first page and not let go.

Pub Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-943006-54-0

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Spark Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

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THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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